Today is the birthday of François-René, Vicomte de Chateaubriand, a French writer, politician, diplomat, and historian, who is considered the founder of Romanticism in French literature. He was descended from an old aristocratic family from Brittany and a royalist by political disposition. In an age when a number of intellectuals turned against the Church, he wrote the Génie du christianisme (In defense of the Catholic faith). His autobiography Mémoires d’outre-tombe (Memoirs from Beyond the Grave), published posthumously in 1849–1850, is nowadays generally considered his most accomplished work.
Well, I chose Chateaubriand, not because I like his work (I do) but because he gave his name to TWO celebrated dishes – Chateaubriand steak and Chateaubriand sauce. Although the point is sometimes obscured by my dribbling on about history, science, mathematics and whatnot, this is supposed to be a food blog – a recipe of the day. This is my chance to redress the balance. However, François-René deserves his due. Here’s a few memorable quotes:
Perfect works are rare, because they must be produced at the happy moment when taste and genius unite; and this rare conjuncture, like that of certain planets, appears to occur only after the revolution of several cycles, and only lasts for an instant.
I am Bourbon as a matter of honor, royalist according to reason and conviction, and republican by taste and character.
As soon as a true thought has entered our mind, it gives a light which makes us see a crowd of other objects which we have never perceived before.
Though we have not employed the arguments usually advanced by the apologists of Christianity, we have arrived by a different chain of reasoning at the same conclusion: Christianity is perfect; men are imperfect. Now, a perfect consequence cannot spring from an imperfect principle. Christianity, therefore, is not the work of men. If Christianity is not the work of man, it can have come from none but God. If it came from God, men cannot have acquired a knowledge of it except by revelation. Therefore, Christianity is a revealed religion.
An original writer is not one who imitates nobody, but one whom nobody can imitate.
Memory is often the attribute of stupidity; it generally belongs to heavy spirits whom it makes even heavier by the baggage it loads them down with.
One does not learn how to die by killing others.
Chateaubriand died in 1848 at the age of 80. He chose the site for his burial on a then deserted island on France’s Atlantic coast: Grand Bé. The very small island of Grand Bé is just off the shore from the town of Saint Malo, close to where Chateaubriand was born, in the département of Ille-et-Vilaine, in Bretagne, Brittany. Near his tomb is a plaque inscribed thus:
Un grand écrivain français a voulu reposer ici pour n’entendre que la mer et le vent.
Respecte sa dernière volonté.
A great French writer wanted to rest here to hear only the sea and wind.
Respect his last wish.
Chateaubriand steak (or, simply, chateaubriand) is a meat dish cooked with a thick cut from the tenderloin filet. In contemporary times, chateaubriand cuts of beef refer to a large steak cut from the thickest part of a fillet of beef. Gourmets occasionally debate where it should be cut from. In the gastronomy of the 19th century, the steak for chateaubriand was cut from the sirloin, and the dish was served with a reduced sauce named chateaubriand sauce prepared with white wine and shallots moistened with demi-glace, and mixed with butter, tarragon, and lemon juice. The steak was named for the man, and the sauce for the steak. Since then steak and sauce have gone their separate ways.
Larousse Gastronomique indicates that the dish chateaubriand was created by the namesake’s personal chef, Montmireil. An alternate spelling of the Vicomte’s surname is Châteaubriant, which term, the Dictionnaire de l’Académie des Gastronomes indicates, identifies the source and the quality of the beef cattle bred at the town of Châteaubriant, in the Loire-Atlantique, France.
It is often claimed that a chateaubriand steak is too thick to be grilled and should be roast. This is nonsense. I am Argentino !! Give me a piece of meat of any thickness and I will cook it on the parrilla to perfection. If you roast it, turn the oven to 500°F or higher and roast for about 25 minutes, or until the meat is thoroughly browned on the outside and bloody inside. If you cook it all the way through the gourmet police will arrest you and force you to eat cardboard. Otherwise grill over very hot coals until it is charred outside and red within. Cut in thick slices across the grain and sauce. It is best served with chateaubriand sauce, but you can also use béarnaise or any other suitable red meat sauce such as a red wine reduction, green peppercorn, or mustard.
Chateaubriand sauce is sometimes referred to as “crapaudine sauce”. It is prepared in a series of reductions, and typically accompanies chateaubriand steak. Other dishes, such as tournedos villaret and villemer tournedos, also incorporate the sauce in their preparation. The origin of chateaubriand sauce is subject to debate. Some credit its creation to Monmireil, who prepared it for Chateaubriand. Others speculate that it originated at the Champeaux restaurant following the publication of Chateaubriand’s book, Itinéraire de Paris à Jérusalem (Itinerary from Paris to Jerusalem).
The sauce is prepared with shallots, mushrooms, thyme, bay leaf, tarragon, white wine, brown veal stock and beurre maître d’hôtel (sweet butter infused with parsley). Additional ingredients may include meat glaze, demi-glace, pan drippings, onion, lemon juice, cayenne pepper, peppercorn and salt. The preparation involves cooking all of the ingredients together except for the brown veal stock and beurre maître d’hôtel, until they are reduced by two-thirds. After this, the veal stock is added in proportions equal to the amount of wine that was originally used before the reduction, and this mixture is then reduced to half its size. The final step is for the mixture to be strained and then topped with chopped tarragon and beurre maître d’hôtel.
This sauce was originally meant to accompany chateaubriand steak but now is used in other ways. A dish that incorporates chateaubriand sauce is tournedos villaret, in which mushroom caps are filled with the sauce and placed on top of tournedos, all of which are placed atop tartlets filled with kidney bean purée. The sauce is sometimes served in a separate side dish, rather than on top of the meat, such as with the dish villemer tournedos, which is prepared with fried tournedos placed atop fried chicken croquettes, along with tongue, mushroom and truffle.